Posts Tagged ‘Catholic Health Association’


Sunday, June 22nd, 2014
Auxiliary Bishop Joseph M. Sullivan served the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y. (CNS photo courtesy Catholic Charities of Brooklyn/Queens) (May 21, 2003)

Auxiliary Bishop Joseph M. Sullivan served the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y. (CNS photo courtesy Catholic Charities of Brooklyn/Queens) (May 21, 2003)

Bishop Joseph M. Sullivan of Brooklyn was snatched from us one year and one week ago. He died when a tire blew on his car and he pulled into the emergency lane on one of the big city’s fast and furious expressways only to be hit by an oncoming truck.

For most of his priestly life, Bishop Joe Sullivan worked in his home diocese of Brooklyn in Catholic Charities and in Catholic hospitals. As a result of these engagements, he became known nationally as the “go-to” bishop on social justice and Catholic medical issues.

He served on the board of the Catholic Health Association as the official liaison of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for many years, served as chairman of Catholic Charities USA’s board and also as a member, served as Chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Social Justice and again as chair of the Domestic Social Justice committee. He chaired and supported strongly the Catholic Medical Mission Board which distributes donated medicines to poor countries around the world. He first asked me if I would be willing to take a seat on the board of directors of the Catholic Health Association and then again if I would replace him as a member of the board of directors of the Catholic Medical Mission Board.

The bishop was one of the happiest but most realistic men I have ever met. He played minor league baseball as a pitcher before entering the seminary. He fancied himself as something of an Irish tenor and could easily be coaxed into singing “Danny Boy” at the drop of a zucchetto (that’s the pink beanie we bishops wear). He was never happier when as a member of the episcopal conference he served on the drafting/writing committee of the USCCB’s pastoral letters on the dangers of war and the promise of peace as well as on the economy. His was the mind of a social justice activist and he supported workers in their right to organize into union in the footsteps of Chicago’s Monsignor Jack Egan and George Higgins.

He walked and talked faster than anyone I know. Fast talking with a Brooklyn accent made anyone attempting to listen to listen even closer. He was a man of infinite hope, incredible charity, great faith, and endless love for the poor, the marginalized, the sick and dying, the homeless, the undocumented, and so on. And he was walking contagion. To be near him was to become infected with the joy of the Gospel.

This afternoon [Sunday, June 22nd] I will be delivering the first annual Bishop Joseph Sullivan Lecture, an annual tribute to his memory established by his (and my) beloved Catholic Health Association, as the keynote address for their Annual Assembly beginning today in Chicago, Illinois. You may read my address by clicking here if you wish. Forewarned, however, is to be forearmed – it is a lengthy text. I had great fun drafting it because I love and honor its two principal foci, Bishop Joe and Pope Francis. Let me know what you think, as I know lots of other people will.



Monday, June 3rd, 2013

This morning I formally and in a very nice way finished my seven years on the Board of the Catholic Health Association. It doesn’t seem like seven years to me but it has been seven grace-filled years to be sure. My final moment was spent right where it should have been, at the altar celebrating daily Mass for about five hundred of the slightly more than one thousand delegates attending the annual Assembly this year in Anaheim, California. The attendees are a diverse lot from religious women whose congregations founded the great Catholic hospital system of this nation to lay women and men who now manage and run the hospitals.

Much is changing fast in the world of health care. Let me illustrate by speaking of the two Catholic hospitals in our local Church, St. Joseph’s in Tampa and St. Anthony’s in St. Petersburg. Fifteen years ago, knowing that some sort of merger or alliance would be necessary to keep these non-profit health care facilities alive, the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany, New York decided to enter a joint venture with four other local non-profit hospitals to form a new entity called BAYCARE. Prior to that decision, the sisters had already joined what then and now is called a system of hospitals which was called CATHOLIC HEALTH EAST. The system was made up of a number of Catholic sponsored hospitals mostly as the name implies along the east coast of the US. Forming systems gave smaller independent order sponsored hospitals the purchasing strength and other market protections which were then felt necessary to stave off the rise of the for-profit hospital systems (I won’t name them but they are present in our community). It was farsighted and fortuitous. It is likely none of them would be standing today had the sisters not formed the systems.

In our case, the two Catholic sponsored hospitals differed significantly. St. Joseph’s was doing very well and St. Anthony’s was struggling. BAYCARE provided the financial protection to grow St. Anthony to the position it is currently in which is quite sound and St. Josephs like its sister in the system, Morton Plant is also cruising along well. All of the hospitals in the BAYCARE joint venture agreed to abide by the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Facilities.” (if you wish to see what these directives require, click here). None of the hospitals were engaged in performing elective abortions and they did not wish to do so. Originally, Bayfront Hospital in St. Petersburg was in the joint venture but then politics and politicians got involved and they left and have struggled financially ever since.

How long Catholic health care can continue is an open question but for the moment, the systems are growing and more and more not-for-profit hospitals are joining in. There is also now a move to start for-profit hospitals under Catholic auspices. What is the difference, one might ask? A non-for-profit Catholic Hospital does make money but instead of distributing it to stock holders, the money is plowed back into the facility for enhancement and staying current and up-to-date. Community care is assured and the interests of the poor and under-served are still met.

So I leave an organization from which I have learned a great deal and for which I have a great love and now even a devotion. It has been an honor to work for and with Catholic Health Association and its President, Sister Carol Keehan, DC. She and her staff are first rate representatives of the best our Church has to offer in the health care arena. My colleagues, episcopal, lay and religious on the Board are outstanding witnesses to the desire to maintain and carry on the founding vision and charisms of those who began in the ministry many decades ago. Only God knows where the ministry will go in the future and what it will look like. I can say that in the seven years I have been privileged to serve, we have kept the vision and identification alive. I will miss them as I miss being involved intimately in Catholic Relief Services but for every thing there is a time and a season.



Friday, October 14th, 2011

I am writing this from St. Theresa’s Motherhouse of the Carmelite Sisters of the Aged and Infirm near Germantown, New York. This beautiful piece of property with its stately mansion was purchased by the foundress of this community of religious women, Mother Angeline Teresa McCrory, O. Carm. in 1947 for $46,000 and has served in the intervening years as the Generalate for this branch of Carmelite Sisters who trace their way of life to St. Theresa of Avila. September 3, 2009 marked the eightieth anniversary of the founding of the Carmelite Sisters of the Aged and Infirm whose major ministry, indeed their only ministry, is to the care of the aged, sick and infirm. The eighty-six acre property sits on the east bank of the Hudson River with the Catskill Mountains rising beautifully in the not too distant west. Mother Angeline was the head of the congregation which she founded in 1929 until her death in 1984, an astounding fifty-five years and she watched over the growth of these wonderful nuns from the early few to a high of about 350 sisters (there remain about 180 sisters). Born in Ireland and raised in Scotland where her father was a coal miner, she originally entered the Little Sisters of the Poor in France but when sent to the United States, she came to realize a need for a different form of ministry to the sick and dying, received permission from the Holy See to leave the one congregation and found this new community of women.

Mother Angeline had a great love for the priesthood and for priests and thus many of their long term care facilities today are home to aging priests often without families or those who simply need long term care. In her lifetime she became friends with many bishops and priests, including in our Florida history, Archbishops Joseph P. Hurley of Saint Augustine and Coleman F. Carroll of Miami. The sisters have a large long-term care facility on Palm Beach island called the Nora McKeen Residence and I was able to spend some time with Sister Mary Fidelis, O. Carm.,  who headed that facility for a number of years. At Christmas in 1941, Mother Angeline wrote these words of suggested prayer to her sisters: “Jesus, I pray Thee for thy faithful and fervent Priests laboring at home or abroad in distant mission fields; for Thy tempted priests; for Thy lonely and desolate Priests; for Thy young priests, for Thy aged Priests; for the souls of Thy priests in Purgatory. But above all I commend to Thee the Priests dearest to me: the Priest who baptized me; the Priests who absolved me from my sins, the Priests at whose Masses I assisted and who gave me Thy Body and Blood in Holy Communion. The Priests who taught and instructed me or helped me or encouraged me; all the Priests to whom I am indebted in any other way, Particularly Father _______. O Jesus keep them all close to Thy Heart, and bless them abundantly in time and eternity. Amen.” So how did I get here at the Mother House since I am neither aged (I lie) or infirm (I do not lie)?

Sister Peter Lillian of this community serves on the board of the Catholic Health Association with me and she asked if I would come to celebrate Mass and preach at a three day annual convening called the Avila Institute for Gerontology wherein leadership from all their facilities around the midwest, eastern and southern parts of the United States would attend. I could never turn Sister Peter down in a million years so here I am on the banks of the Hudson in eighty degree Fall weather with the leaves just beginning to change. This is a challenging time for nursing homes and longterm care facilities around the US and in particular to the sisters’ mission. Reimbursement formulas will change as a result of the Affordable Care Act and I believe it could have ominous consequences for facilities like those which the sisters run. Those in attendance are learning first hand of those consequences during this meeting and how they might most effectively be met. My role is to offer daily Mass and preach briefly plus I had two lesser duties assigned to me as well.

I flew Sunday night after a late morning confirmation at Blessed Sacrament parish, Seminole, to Albany, New York. I was surrounded by people returning to Albany. Several asked me where I was going and when I said “Germantown” they replied “where is that?” For the first time in my life I drove a rental car down the New York State Thruway (scary piece of concrete) and after about forty miles the GPS in my iPhone finally announced, “Exit in two miles to the right. Turn left and follow the signs to Sleepy Hollow.” I crossed the Rip Van Wrinkle Bridge over the Hudson and began my lookout for the Headless Horseman or maybe even Ichabod Crane. Seeing neither I soon passed an intersection which contained two gas stations on two of the four corners and two banks on the other two and a sign which said, “Leaving Germantown.” I have no memory of entering Germantown. Nonetheless I found the entrance to Motherhouse and have been very well cared for since. It has been a delightful two days and three nights but today it is back to St. Petersburg, work, and no headless horseman again, I hope.


The Hudson River with the Catskills much closer than they look on the opposite bank


Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

The second visit of Pope John Paul II to the United States was radically different in many ways from the first. President Ronald Reagan had invited the Pope to make a pastoral visit this time and the United Nations was not involved. Since the last visit in 1979 both the Pope and the President were survivors of assassination attempts and so security concerns were ratcheted up significantly. More people and dioceses wanted the Pope even though the cost to the host diocese ran at least three million dollars a day and with nine years in office behind him, every US Church agency wanted a piece of the action. Disney World wanted him desperately for a meeting with the youth of the world at EPCOT (making me one of the few Floridians to ever say “no” to Disney and live to tell of it).

In Rome my dear friend Archbishop Marcinkus had been replaced by a new team of papal advance members led by the Jesuit head of Vatican Radio, Father Roberto Tucci, SJ who is now a cardinal. Assisting him were two of the finest men one would wish to work with, Monsignor Emil Tscherrig from the Secretariat of State and Dr. Alberto Gasbari from Vatican Radio. But John Paul remained the same, just a little older. There were two preparatory meetings with him, which included lunch in his apartment, and a meeting of all the host bishops and the archbishops of the United States with him in Rome in advance of the meeting. Tensions were running somewhat high as agendas were beginning to emerge in the United States. In the visit of 1979, only an address by Sister Theresa Kane, the head of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious had raised some concerns but I am certain that the Pope did not hear her. Little known to anyone at the time was that the young pope was near deaf in one ear and the sound in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception was not advantageous for him to hear. Almost every picture ever taken with him never shows him looking at the person but turned so he could hear with his good ear.

But it seemed in 1987 everyone wanted an opportunity to speak to him, hoping to elicit a favorable response. So Monsignor Frank McNulty of Newark addressed him on behalf of priests in Miami, Donna Hanson, a lay woman from Spokane, Washington addressed him in San Francisco, Cardinal Bernardin, Archbishop Quinn, Archbishop Pilarczyk and Archbishop Weakland addressed him in Los Angeles, the National Catholic Education Association, the Catholic Health Association, and many others spoke their concerns. The Holy Father always had a prepared response as those writing for him had advance looks at the texts.

The Native American Blessing with an Eagle's Feather

Three things gave him special energy in this visit. Although earlier in the day for the first and only time in his entire pontificate his Mass was interrupted and rained out in Miami, he was at his best that day in Columbia, South Carolina on the campus of that state’s University. He could lot believe the tens of thousands of students in a state he knew to be 1% Catholic would gather on the quadrangle and cheer for him and remain while he conducted a ninety minute ecumenical and interreligious exchange with religious leaders from throughout the United States. There were as many students still there when he exited as when he went in and he commented to me, “These young people, they are not Catholic?”  Later he and Billy Graham were to share the stage in the football stadium for a truly ecumenical prayer service, which was frowned upon by some of those travelling with him from Rome.

He also enjoyed a meeting with Native Americans in Phoenix, which included their ritual blessing with an eagle feather, also causing some alacrity with his travelling party that a largely pagan sign would be used with him but something, which clearly he enjoyed.

The Holy Father Meeting Young People at the Superdome

And as in 1979 at Madison Square Garden, in 1987 the meeting with the young people of New Orleans and elsewhere who would fill the vast Superdome brought him special happiness. He was more comfortable and at ease with kids than with bishops by far. Their spontaneous response to his obvious thrill of being with them and their love for him drew them closer to him always.

Popes carry burdens of soul, which few others have to carry. The 1987 visit was right when the AIDS pandemic was spreading and becoming better known in the U.S. Church teaching on condom use and abstinence were not well received in many quarters and to those involved in AIDS ministry and even to those suffering from the disease, the Church in general and the Pope especially seemed insensitive, uncaring, even cruel. When at the old Serra Mission in San Francisco at a prayer service for those with AIDS the pope picked up a child with aids and hugged an adult and embraced him, hearts melted and compassion marked the Gospel. It was quite a moment for me, one that I had helped arrange with the assistance of my Roman colleagues but somewhat looked askance at by others.

John Paul II arrived in Miami with a long and warm meeting between two men nearly killed by an assassin’s bullet and it ended with Vice-President George H. W. Bush offering farewell remarks in Detroit, a city added at the insistence of Archbishop Edmund Szoka which required flying back two thirds of the way across the U.S. and then West again into the Northwest Territory to Fort Simpson in Canada to keep a date he had to cancel several years prior due to fog precluding the landing of his plane at that time. The Holy Father was clearly weakened by his horrible moment with history and not exactly the same as in 1979 but he kept a hectic daily schedule nonetheless and there was always that time for meditation and prayer. Bone tired at midday, on this trip with a scheduled brief rest he would recover well enough to keep a schedule that would kill me at his age, drawing strength from inside himself and at prayer, never wishing to disappoint anyone, and renewed by the adulation of the masses of people who came to pray, listen and reflect with him, especially the young. On both occasions he was impressed with the vitality of the Church in the United States and liked the manner in which we prayed. He mentioned this to the officers and I after his trip in the Fall of 1987 at lunch with him in Rome. For this trip I asked Bishop Larkin if I could have the services of Father John Tapp to assist essentially in the care and feeding of the papal entourage who came with the Pope from Rome and he had his hands full. Also I hired a young lay man from Indiana to work for a year and a half with the Secret Service and the USCC Communications office in arranging for the needs of the local and traveling press (about 300 travelled with us on the full ten day trip). His name was Paul Etienne and he is now the Bishop of Cheyenne, Wyoming.

On the TWA 747 in Detroit I climbed the steps once again. This time he was ready for me having been reminded by someone of my quip in Washington in 1979 that he could come back but not too soon. He gave me that half smile and said, “Father, will I be welcome again?” Off he went to Fort Simpson and my life returned to normal.




Thursday, September 30th, 2010

Recently and amazingly a federal judge in Washington, D.C., Judge Royce Lamberth, ruled that two scientists who appeared before his court seeking injunctive relief would indeed suffer immediate and non-reversible harm if he did not place a hold on embryonic stem cell research while the constitutionality and ethics of the procedure were under judicial review. Embryonic stem cell research has been approved by President Obama and federal funds directed to it. The two research scientists convinced the judge who ordered a temporary halt to further research pending the outcome of the larger case. On Tuesday, not unpredictably, a three-judge federal appeals court over-ruled their lower court brother and voted to allow the federal government to keep on financing embryonic stem cell research. Editorially this morning THE NEW YORK TIMES crowed about the appeals court ruling, seeing it as providing relief for victims of Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injuries and other serious ailments. There are two things horribly wrong with this line of argumentation.

Embryonic stem cell harvesting precludes human life from coming into existence and is a form of abortion, against the law of God and also the laws of humankind for most of our history. There is little argument about the fact that taking embryonic stem cells takes human life. The second never mentioned fallacy of the proponents of embryonic stem cell research (Florida voters should take note of the positions of the candidates for the U.S. Senate on this issue) is that after about a decade of the deadly embryonic stem cell research, there has yet to be one success, one result which would sustain the hope of those with these horrible diseases. Bluntly put, immoral means leads in this instance to totally unsuccessful end.

There is real promise to be found in adult stem cell research, however, and there are already successful applications arising from the research. One sign of hope is occurring here in the Diocese of St. Petersburg and involves St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital in Tampa. Our Church allows and strongly encourages adult stem cell harvesting and research. A company begun in Pittsburgh by two venture capitalists with an uncompromising commitment to what is both ethical and moral has opened a laboratory in Clearwater for adult stem cells. Stemnion, Inc. began its life with research grants from the United States Government, the United States Department of Defense, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and a few other sources to produce ethically and morally a protocol for more rapid and complete healing of severe burns. Archbishop Donald Wuerl while still bishop of Pittsburgh visited Stemnion’s Pittsburgh lab and blessed it and those engaged in the search for a real cure (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Article). The results today have been very positive and now the company awaits FDA approval to begin marketing its findings. To continue its forward looking and thus far successful research, Stemnion approached the Catholic Health Association and its President, Sister Carol Keehan, DC, to held them find a source for adult stem cells taken from the placentas of women who have just given birth. She suggested they contact St. Joseph’s Womens and following the statement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops which said, “We must pursue progress in ethically responsible ways that respect the dignity of each human being. Only this will produce cures and treatments that everyone can live with” St. Joseph’s Women’s began their Placental Tissue Donation Opportunity. Stem cells from adult tissues, umbilical cord blood and placenta can be obtained without harm to the mother or child and with the expectant mother’s prior consent and when the birth is by C-section only, the placenta is donated to Stemnion, Inc to be used to manufacture investigational treatments that promote rapid healing of tissue of burn victims and other types of wounds. C-section birth mothers are told that “at a time when you are starting a new life with your family, consider giving the gift of your placenta to help others have a better chance at life.”

This was no small commitment for St. Joseph’s Women’s to make as there is no money in it for the hospital or mother and the former must at a very busy time when the mother who has just given birth and her prior consent require the first and immediate attention, the nurses must harvest and collect the placenta, put it into a proper transportable container, give it to a waiting courier and get its to Stemnion’s lab where the window of opportunity is open for only two hours from delivery to freezing in the Stemnion Lab after proper analysis of the incoming tissue. One bad day on the Howard Franklin and the effort will have been for naught as the window is only 120 minutes.

So like Archbishop Wuerl at the Pittsburgh Lab I blessed and invoked God’s blessing on the Clearwater Stemnion lab and employees. Their work is already bearing substantial results from a moral and ethical procedure. But, politicians and newspapers still back a horse which has yet to make it out of the starting gate and tend to ignore those who are already rounding the three-quarter pole and sprinting for the finish.


Update: You can read the article from the Catholic News Service on the web site of the Catholic Herald, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and about the whole process in Catholic Health World.


Monday, May 31st, 2010
Tuesday, June 1, 2010 2pm Installation of Archbishop Thomas Wenski as Fourth Archbishop of Miami
Thursday, June 3, 2010 630pm Seminarian’s Cookout at Bethany Center
Sunday, June 6, 2010 1100am Fortieth Anniversary of Priestly Ordination, Father Henry Riffle, Pastor of St. Michael’s Church, Hudson
Monday, June 7, 2010 700pm Commissioning of Graduates of Lay Pastoral Ministry Institute
Sat-Sun, June 12-13, 2010 Catholic Health Association Board of Directors Meeting and Annual Assembly, Denver, CO
Mon-Sat, June 14-19, 2010 USCCB Bishops’ Assembly, Vinoy Hotel, St. Petersburg, FL
Sunday, June 20, 2010 930am Installation of Father Anthony Coppola as Pastor of Sacred Heart parish, Pinellas Park
Monday, June 21,2010 1100am Incardination Committee Meeting, Bishop Larkin Pastoral Center
Tuesday, June 29, 2010 1030am Mass and Anointing of the Sick, Bon Secours Maria Manor
Wednesday, June 30, 2010 1030am Mass of Thanksgiving on the Occasion of the Election of Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB as Prioress of Holy Name Monastery, Saint Leo, FL


Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Last night I received an e-mail from Sister Carol Keehan whom I had tried to reach by phone prior to writing the previous blog. She was flying and I was busy so we never connected. Sister Carol is a good woman of the Church, no liberal trouble-maker by any stretch of the imagination and a woman who as CEO turned Providence Hospital around from certain bankruptcy and closing to a viable facility in the northeast section of the District serving an increasingly poor and marginalized community. She is worthy of being listened to and the other members of the CHA (Catholic Health Association) board respect both her experience and her wisdom. She writes and I believe I owe it to her to place here: “I need to tell you that the information about our position [in your blog] is incorrect. I know that it is what Cardinal George’s statement says but that is not our position. We believe that the Senate bill as written now, meets the test of no federal funding for abortion. We said that we wanted that preserved in the reconciliation bill not fixed. That is a misrepresentation of our position. We would not have taken the position we took if we were hoping for a fix. It had to be already in place and it is. Many legal scholars, the ABC News “Fact Check” also same the same thing. The provisions were negotiated by Senators Casey and Nelson, two of the most ardent pro-lifers out there.”

I must also include for your thinking that several very reliable sources have said the same thing as Sister Carol above. The position of the bishops, which I embrace until I have some certainty that we are wrong, is being refuted by usually reliable sources and last night, Congressman Thomas Perriello, a conservative pro-life Catholic, said that he was convinced that the Senate version would guarantee that no federal funds would find their way to abortion services. If he moves to accept the Senate version, that will be a major moment for the pro-life movement given his past perfect record.

Passions run high in this matter, sometimes at the expense of rational analysis. I will try and keep myself informed of the developments throughout this week and continue to share my thoughts with you here. Now it is off on AMTRAK again, this time to Miami, for a visit with our twenty college seminarians and a funeral in Lake Worth tomorrow.


Update: Here are the complete letter by Sr. Carol Keehan, DC and statement by Cardinal Francis George, OMI


Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

Those of you who might be expecting some narrative of my weeks of confinement at St. Anthony’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, are bound to be disappointed. My purpose today is to address the recent statements of two organizations within the Church seemingly at loggerheads on the matter of health care reform.

The Catholic Health Association LogoOn Saturday, the Catholic Health Association of the United States of America announced that the Senate health care reform plan enjoyed that association’s blessings, with some minor difficulties which needed to be fixed prior to passage or before enactment.

USCCB LogoOn Monday, Chicago’s Francis Cardinal George, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement on behalf of the bishops saying that the Senate Health Care plan, while containing many admirable features is unacceptable because of far too generous abortion provision language and, sadly, its passage would have to be opposed by the bishops of the United States.

There you have it, two highly respected organizations representing the same Church of Jesus Christ on opposite sides of the street during this seemingly final week of deliberations and action. What should a serious Catholic make of all of this?

First, in the interest of full disclosure, I ask that you recall that:

  • I am an elected member of the Board of Directors of the Catholic Health Association, serving the first year of my second three year term. Because of my well known illness, I have been unable to attend any CHA board meetings since last June and until only the last few days have been either unable or unwilling to read Board documentation. Therefore, as I write this¸ I have no personal knowledge of any discussions held and/or actions taken by the governing board prior to last Saturday’s press conference by Sister Carol Keehan, our president, and a woman whom I deeply admire for her history both in Catholic health care provision and pro-life advocacy.
  • I am also a member of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Again because of my lengthy and well publicized illness, I have been unable to attend or participate in any USCCB plenary meetings since November 2008 and until the last few days have been either unable or unwilling to read Conference documentation as well.
  • Finally, for nine years I served as either Associate General Secretary for Public Policy Advocacy of the old NCCB-USCC or as General Secretary of the same, acting as the Chief Operating Officer for six years.

During the time of my confinement, I have been led to believe that CHA and USCCB were working together to eliminate any language in the health care proposals which threatened the effectiveness of the long standing Hyde amendment which prevents federal monies (your tax dollars and mine) from providing abortions. The USCCB skillfully acted as a major player in gaining the Stupak amendment to the House passed Health Care Reform Bill last Fall. CHA in the end supported the Stupak language.

CHA prefers the health care reform vision of the Senate bill as they deem it ultimately more successful, more efficient, and more effective than the House passed version. USCCB has no major objections to the language in the Senate bill as it relates to the delivery of services except for the need of greater inclusion of immigrants and its abortion language. CHA agrees that there are problems with the abortion language (or in some instances the lack thereof) in the Senate bill but offers that it can be fixed in the “reconciliation” process or after enactment. The bishops say in response to this basically, “that will be far too little and much too late.”

CHA says that general access to health care benefits is a right of all citizens and every effort should be expended to see that it is made available. USCCB agrees but says nothing in the law can or should either extend abortion “rights”, use taxpayer monies to pay for abortions through new insurance possibilities, or in any way infringe on the right of conscience of those opposed to participating in what they believe to be morally illicit procedures.

At the very beginning of this national debate, CHA and USCCB had a long record of working together for genuine, real health reform so that remains and does not divide.

So today, the Catholic Health Association says we are willing to accept the Senate version of health care reform with the understanding that the less than perfect working document must and will be improved later in the process.

And also today, the elected leader of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Francis George says passing the Senate bill will produce too large a loss of moral integrity and the Conference can not risk fixing things outside of the legislative process. He wants health care but finds the Senate bill requires too high a price with woefully inadequate abortion language and conscience protection proposals. The bishops want the Hyde amendment to apply fully which the House bill does and the Senate bill does not.

As a member of the Board of the Catholic Health Association, I too want universal access to health care in this country to all our inhabitants. But I do not wish it through a vehicle that expands abortion rights or weakens conscience clause protection. So I side with the USCCB on this one. Were the bishops’ conference asking for new legislation, further tightening access to abortion or writing new abortion language law, it would have trouble. From the beginning the bishops have said only we must insure that we keep what we have.

I hope and pray that in these final decisive days, the Congress will see the wisdom of the Church’s position on abortion in health care as articulated by the bishops and the experience and wisdom of the Catholic Health Care providers who yearn for a reform of a system which is failing and becoming incredibly expensive – to maintain and to access.

If this were a tennis match, it would not yet be “game” but “advantage bishops.” However, the game is still not over although it is approaching match point. I would hope that Congress will see the wisdom and find the ways to fully apply the Hyde amendment so that both CHA and the USCCB can unite in general support of health care reform that protects the life and dignity of all.



Saturday, July 18th, 2009

Just a short entry on two items of news. President Obama has nominated a fellow board member of mine on the Board of the Catholic Health Association, Regina Benjamin, MD as Surgeon General of the United States of America. Dr. Benjamin has served about two years with me on the board and it seems that at every other meeting some mention was always being made of a new accolade and/or recognition she had received since the last meeting. As most of you know, she is an African-American woman who attended Catholic schools and graduated from Xavier University in New Orleans, a university begun by Mother Katherine Drexel for African Americans many years ago. After completing medical school and beginning her practice, Dr. Benjamin was moved by the lack of access to health care of the rural poor in Alabama and Mississippi and she began to open clinics to care for them. Admired and loved by the Archbishop of Mobile, her home archdiocese, she was awarded the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Award, the highest papal award a bishop can bestow on a lay person. Her participation in the work of the Catholic Health Association has been of the highest calibre. We will miss her but I know that every board member will like myself be proud of her and wish her well in her forthcoming responsibilities.

Secondly, the news of the death today of Walter Cronkite saddens me somewhat. I always trusted that man and turned to him as the principal source of my television news for many, many years. I would occasionally see him in retirement when I used to sail in and out of Edgartown Harbor on Martha’s Vineyard many years ago. Walter has now signed off for the final time on this earth and for him as for all of us, “that’s the way it is.”



Monday, June 8th, 2009

The Catholic Health Assembly which I am attending in New Orleans is wrapping up its second day. I celebrated and preached at today’s Eucharist and am now looking forward to an early morning flight home to Tampa tomorrow morning. Bob Schieffer of CBS News was the keynote speaker at lunch this afternoon and he was delightful, avuncular, and quite an voice impersonator (he does a great Walter Cronkite, but then he should be able to do Walter). He has an arsenal of delightful stories from his forty years with CBS and his work with his hometown newspaper in Fort Worth prior to becoming an on-camera personality. Easy to take after a morning of health care presentations using jargon and language incomprehensible to someone like myself.

One of my favorite people from the diocese is here, Sister Gladys Sharkey, OFM, and we sat together at the banquet last night. Sister Gladys is the last Sister CEO-Administrator of St. Anthony’s Hospital in St. Petersburg and continues to have a very active interest in the health care initiatives of her community. Last night the Association gave four prestigious awards to three religious women and one lay man for their years of service to the Catholic Health Care Ministry. The day is coming when we will have to work hard as a Church to recall that this ministry began largely with religious women who took risks, financial, disease-related (Cholera in the case of sisters in Tampa over 100 years ago) and arduous to serve a population of generally poor people. Now with the advent of modern health care systems managed largely by lay people, and with the aging and death of women and some male religious, the laity have stepped up to the plate. My experience here leads me to believe that the Church has little to fear from this modern reality but there are some voices throughout the country who remain skeptical. All I know is that the women and men who I am privileged to serve with on the board of CHA are deeply committed to the ministry of truly Catholic Health care and most could have accepted jobs in the secular health care industry paying far more but remain because of the roots and realities of the present day situation.